The mayor of Point Pleasant Beach has dropped his controversial plan to open the town’s sole public beach to residents-only after Gov. Phil Murphy declared the practice illegal over the past week.
The borough of Point Pleasant Beach owns one single beach in town – the Maryland Avenue beach near the Bay Head border – while the remainder of the oceanfront is private. The bulk of the beachfront is owned by Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, which remains closed.
Mayor Paul M. Kanitra had planned to limit those who could access the Maryland Avenue beach to those who owned property in town, but several state Supreme Court rulings dating back to the 1950s have been cited as preclusions to such a rule. Murphy ruled out allowing residents-only beach reopenings last week.
The town will still attempt to strictly limit who accesses the beach by banning parking in the entire area around the oceanfront. Parking in what the town considers districts three and four – essentially, the entire area that runs along the ocean, running back to the area near the NJ Transit train tracks – will be off-limits to anyone who is not a Point Pleasant Beach resident. The borough council voted Tuesday night to authorize the printing of signage temporarily banning parking as well as resident parking permits that will have to be displayed on the dashboards of vehicles parked in the two zones.
Some residents at the meeting, held via Zoom, said the parking ban should be expanded to zones 1 and 2, with one resident excoriating the mayor for doing what she described as “pushing” cars to her neighborhood. But Kanitra said the order was only temporary anyway, and was put in place by the borough’s emergency management coordinator. Police Chief Joseph A. Michigan also disagreed with expanding the resident-only parking area, citing manpower issues in enforcing regulations over such a large area.
“This is going to be temporary in the fact that it will last for a few weeks, maybe three or four,” said Kanitra. “I don’t see banner beach days where we’re going to have a large amount of people coming down here.”
“I don’t think it’s necessary there,” said Michigan, referring to zones 1 and 2.
Point Pleasant Beach is unique in that the town only has jurisdiction over the Maryland Avenue beach. The full remainder of the oceanfront is owned by private homeowners, a few small businesses and Jenkinson’s, which accounts for the vast majority. The town owns most of the physical boardwalk, which remains closed. As a non-essential amusement business, Jenkinsons’ facilities remain closed to the public and the company has not released any plans on reopening.
Shorebeat contacted Jenkinson’s for comment late last week and did not receive a response. At the meeting, the mayor indicated it would likely be a long time until the boardwalk and Jenkinsons’ businesses would operate normally. The company, as well as neighboring Martel’s, which operates a beach and its popular Tiki Bar pier on the sand, have both been cooperating with the municipal government, officials said. But if there is disagreement in the future, the town – as the owner of the boardwalk – could conceivably block access to the businesses.
“We’re not going to speak for Jenkinson’s, but the one thing I can say about Jenkinson’s and Martel’s is that they did not hesitate in any fashion” to close when asked, Kanitra said. “They have not put any pressure on this office – it seems as if their interest is the public health interest.”
Kanitra said his understanding is that the company is hoping to be open for the July 4 holiday.
“Whether it could happen before then, it depends on what the governor is doing and what they do with numbers,” the mayor said. “It’s going to be the town’s call and the governor’s call depending on what he allows us to do.”
Kanitra is favoring a slower opening than some other resort communities, mainly because of the manpower that would be needed to enforce what he envisions as strict social distancing measures being in place as a contingency for access.
“We could totally open that boardwalk, but we would probably need 40 or 50 extra officers to cover every access point and enforce social distancing,” he said.
“I believe that our boardwalk will be one of the last to open, if not the last,” Kanitra added.
Point Pleasant Beach also extended a ban on rentals in the town through at least its next borough council meeting on May 15. Council members estimated there would be a 75 percent chance that no rentals would be allowed by Memorial Day.
“As of right now, we do not have the capacity to handle rentals for Memorial Day weekend,” said Kanitra. “Just even 50 percent of our vacation rentals coming in doubles our population in Point Pleasant Beach. We are not going to sacrifice public safety for anything.”
Ultimately, the mayor is relying on parking restrictions to accomplish what the residents-only beach access plan could not. But, in theory, visitors could still park outside the prohibited zones or ride bicycles to the beach.
“I believe that the parking restrictions are going to help us the same way the rental restrictions will in keeping crowds out of town,” said Kanitra.